Research project

An Overshadowed Literature: Mapping the Field

  • Lead researcher:
  • Research funder:
    British Academy
  • Status:
    Not active

Project overview

As is the case with Zambia in many other respects, its literary culture has been overshadowed by the powerful regional pull of the neighbouring Zimbabwe and South Africa. Although it was for decades a ‘frontline state’, Zambia has no history of identity-defining racial animosity and no national master narrative of overcoming colonial adversity through ‘purifying’ armed conflict. Few of its writers have gained international recognition, and the work of those who have done so (Dominic Mulaisho and Binwell Sinyangwe, at the time of this project) is not obviously textually accommodating of post-structuralist theoretical approaches on which the field of Postcolonialism is founded. These are among the reasons why there exists very little critical writing about Zambian literature. Such critical work as does exist – often incorporated into South Africa-centred regional overviews – looks at Zambian writing both cursorily and relationally, comparing it unfavourably with the purportedly more complex and cosmopolitan neighbouring traditions. Within the trans-national field of postcolonial literary studies, Zambian literature and culture are all but invisible.

And yet, the presence of locally-produced books in Lusaka’s bookshops is undeniable, as is the fact that internationally consecrated canons do not always accurately represent the local function and importance of textual formations and practices. Moreover, the volume and overall quality of Zambian literature in English is increasing, and that literary voices emanating out of Zambia are forging a distinct regional cultural discourse, made increasingly internationally visible by Zimbabwe’s decline. Far from being ‘localist’ (Macola) and narrowly inward-looking (Chapman), postcolonial Zambian fiction in English can be seen to participate in a strong cultural tradition of regional cosmopolitanism, nourished in part by a cultural awareness--inescapable in Zambia from 1960s onwards--of other peoples’ freedom struggles, and in part by a combination of Zambia’s ethnic plurality, high levels of urbanisation and the nature of Zambia’s postcolonial ‘cultures of democracy’ (Taylor). This project mapped the field of Zambian literature in English in its own historical moment, and initiated a new phase of critical thinking about its aesthetic, ethical and critical properties.


Lead researcher

Dr Ranka Primorac

Associate Prof of African Literature

Research interests

  • African literatures and cultures and World Literature
  • The novel: histories and theories
  • Literature and space-time
Connect with Ranka

Research outputs

Ranka Primorac, 2011, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 46(1), 157-172
Type: article
Ranka Primorac, 2011, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 46(1), 3-7
Type: article
Ranka Primorac, 2010, Research in African Literatures, 41(3), 49-61
Type: article